His granny gave Normal a smile and turned back to Robert, who was paging through one of the romance novels that had become a guilty pleasure in her life.
“Let’s see, ‘Chapter Eighteen—The Jungles of South America.’ Well, Rachel, I wonder if our hero and heroine will finally find time to profess their love and relieve all that sexual tension.”
Robert lifted and crossed his feet onto the corner of the bed as he relaxed with the book.
“Though personally, I can’t imagine a more uncomfortable spot to have sex than the sweaty, bug-infested jungles of South America.”
Normal’s granny rolled her eyes upward and shook her head just enough to show her exasperation at Robert’s outrageousness. Robert laughed, giving Normal a playful wink. Normal wondered briefly who the better actor was.
Normal had been thinking about Mrs. Reynolds ever since he’d heard that she was on deathwatch, especially after Robert’s observation about her seemingly waiting for something. As he strolled across the lawn toward the willow, Normal allowed his thoughts to rise above his own problems and consider the problem of Mrs. Reynolds.
Originally, a stroke had brought Mrs. Reynolds to River Gate, which had left half her body paralyzed and the rest severely weakened. Normal sat with her after school and sometimes on the weekends, helping her write letters to friends and family who never seemed to visit, and very rarely wrote back. Normal did what he did best, listened. She talked mostly about her grown daughter, a grand ballet dancer studying and working in Europe and Russia. Mrs. Reynolds talked endlessly about the schools, recitals, dance companies, and performances, boasting of all the rave reviews and accolades that the daughter had accumulated over her career. Apparently, as Normal read between the lines of Mrs. Reynold’s stories, the higher the daughter’s talent took her, the farther from the mother she travelled—physically, as well as emotionally. Normal suspected that Mrs. Reynolds had been the worst kind of stage mother.
What made Mrs. Reynolds difficult for Normal, trying to get an image of the woman in his head, was that not one of her stories was about herself. They all centered on her daughter’s journey to dance stardom. Then Normal had an idea. Maybe Mrs. Reynolds was telling him stories about herself. For whatever reason, lack of opportunity, ability, or courage, maybe Mrs. Reynolds was never able to live her own dreams. So, all the child’s triumphs became the mother’s.
As Normal drew close to the old willow, an image of Mrs. Reynolds quickly built and solidified in the art part of his mind. He crossed under the hanging limbs and into the secluded world underneath the leaves. He sat down on his favorite spot, took out his art pad, the pen and pencil box, and began to work.
Under his confident hand and sure style, the image of Mrs. Reynolds in his mind developed on the page. For almost two hours he drew, so focused that all but the work was real to him. Then he stopped, the study finished. He looked up and wasn’t surprised to see that he wasn’t alone.
Mrs. Reynolds stood near. Not the woman Normal had come to know, half-dead and alone with only the memories of her absent daughter’s achievements for solace. Yet the woman as she saw herself, and as Normal drew her, tall, long-legged and beautiful. She had her hair pulled back into a tight bun, as a delicate, brightly jeweled tiara sparkled on her brow. She wore a white dance leotard with a modest skirt of a material that almost floated on the air, and a pair of elongated pointe shoes with ribbons that crisscrossed her ankles. Mrs. Reynolds stood, examining and stretching her long, lean, muscled arms as if she’d just awakened from a long sleep. Then she paused, her eyes turning to Normal without moving her head, and smiled mischievously.
Then she danced.
Normal sat mesmerized! Her every step and movement so confident, studied, and practiced, that he felt that the dance needed no music because the music was in the movement of the dance. For fifteen joy-filled minutes, Mrs. Reynolds danced for Normal, making Normal wonder whether the daughter was able to dance as perfectly as the mother did.
Then, as suddenly as she had started, Mrs. Reynolds stopped. She stood frozen in place, a sad expression on her face. Without looking at Normal, she spun on her toe, pirouette after pirouette, until she came to the edge of the willow. Then, with hardly a pause, she swept aside the leaves and limbs of the tree, as if parting a curtain, and disappeared beyond. Normal quickly packed his art bag and followed after.
As he emerged from under the willow, Normal saw no sign of Mrs. Reynolds. However, he could feel the steady gaze and anger of the little boy that haunted the garden. Normal looked around for him, suddenly feeling lost and alone. As if, something was gone, something stolen from him. Instead of the usual nausea, he felt tremendous anger and resentment. He felt hatred for the world, for everything it had taken from him. He hated how he had to live his life.
Normal trotted along the path, drawn toward the garden wall. As he approached, he saw that the garden gate was open and Mrs. Reynolds still standing in the opening. Here was his opportunity!
However, as he ran up, Mrs. Reynolds held out a hand, and Normal skidded to a stop. Her command rooted him in place. He was at war with himself. This wasn’t a simple desire to know what was beyond the gate, to solve a mystery. This was more! He needed to leave through the gate, to go wherever the gate led!
Mrs. Reynolds sighed sadly and shook her head. Then she stepped through, disappearing into the twilight world on the other side. As the gate swung closed behind her, Normal reached out to grasp the handle.
“Normal?” called a girl’s voice, distant yet familiar.
At the call of his name, the art part of his mind seemed to awaken again. An image filled his thoughts. The image of a girl with ebony hair and mahogany eyes, sad, lost and needing him.
Suddenly, the memory of Mrs. Reynolds was vague and indistinct. Did it really happen? Did he really see her dance? Only Koren Shaw’s face remained firmly fixed in his mind, his thoughts working out the mechanics as if he were going to paint her portrait.
Normal turned from the gate and froze. The little boy stood at the intersection of the two garden paths, just in the shadow of the towers. Normal could barely see the boy with the last remaining sunlight still in his eyes. However, Normal could feel the boy’s gaze, his anger. A thought, same as that morning, a choice entered his thinking as if communicated from the boy. No living person can open that gate, only the dead.
Normal closed his eyes and concentrated on the image of Koren building obsessively in the art part of his mind. As he concentrated, the warmth of the sun on his face cooled. He opened his eyes and saw that the sun had set behind the towers and that he, the wall, and the garden gate, were in the shadow.
The boy was gone.
For more information on my novel A Wounded World, go to the A Wounded World page on this site or go to Amazon.com https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IJB8RIE/